Elvis never rocked like this
By Gord Westmacott
With the release of their latest album, Full-Blown Possession, The Grifters are stepping into unknown territory.
If nothing else, a listener could always count on The Grifters to make immediately likeable rock albums with just enough weird and quirky moments to make them interesting over the longer term. With this record however, The Grifters are asking their fans to have a little patience.
"We were wondering if it was just a more full realization of things that we've always worked on or else we're just treading water," jokes singer/guitarist Tripp Lamkins over the phone from North Carolina. The band is finishing up the first week of a North American tour that brings them to Call The Office tonight.
"I think it's more mature," he insists. "We're still doing what we do, we're just getting a little bit better at playing off of each other."
This isn't to suggest the band has lost its edge. There are still plenty of elements of the blood-and-guts approach to rock 'n' roll which earned the first three albums so much praise. But Full Blown Possession also seems to be taking the more overtly pop and glam elements showcased on last year's Ain't My Lookout (The Grifters first with SubPop) as a jumping-off point.
"It comes more naturally," says Lamkins. "We just have such a variety of influences and we're just letting them come through more. To constantly rip off a genre of music is not very soulful, I think. We're definitely allowing all the different influences to come through more and not fighting them as much."
After signing to SubPop and releasing a much more polished album in Ain't My Lookout, The Grifters were subjected to accusations from some corners saying they had spoiled what had once made them great.
"SubPop really wanted a slick record and we were a little worried about that," says Lamkins. "In the old days, when we're paying for it ourselves and we only had five days to do a whole record, it forced us to be creative in different ways. I think that's where a lot of the wild accidents came from," he admits.
In the end though, Lamkins insists that working at Easley Studios, in their home town of Memphis, has opened up new possibilities for the band. "Spending a lot of time on [Full Blown Possession] probably decreased the number of happy accidents, but the songs are more realized," he says, adding the band probably laboured over the songs on this record more than on any other record.
Because of scheduling problems which didn't allow them to get into Easley as they were finishing the album, the band also recorded part of Full-Blown Possession down the street at Sun Studios.
Still, the limitations of the studio forced the band into what Lamkins sees as rewarding circumstances. "The cool thing about Sun was that it wasn't as advanced a studio. I think it was only 16 tracks so we knew we had to cut it more live which is what we wanted to do."
Despite all the media attention of the band's ties to Memphis, Lamkins remains reluctant to draw attention to it. He points out that there is a kind of crass marketing of certain elements of the city's musical history which has undermined the richness of its contribution to American music.
"Memphis is kind of boring," he says flatly. "The one thread that runs through the lives of Memphis musicians is that they have lots of free time and lots of booze to drink, so they just end up sitting on the porch drinking and playing the guitar and writing songs."
*The Grifters bring their guitars and booze to Call the Office tonight (with guests Blonde Redhead.)